Tag Archives: God

The Spirits

A biblical look at a common belief in Uganda

How does the world work? What forces guide the everyday events we see? How you answer depends on your worldview. A worldview is a set of assumptions about the fundamental workings and realities of the world. Everyone has one whether they know it or not. A worldview answers questions like: what is the purpose of life? what is good? what governs the world? and what is real?.

Different regions of the world have different worldviews. Africa is no different. While not uniform, there is a shared basic worldview in much sub-Sahara Africa, if not all of Africa.

What happens when an owl hoots in a tree at night? Is it just a hoot or is something more happening? In much of Uganda, it is believed that this is a signal of bad things including death. So, they chase owls away. Owls are viewed as evil and harbingers of death. They are not a symbol of wisdom as in the West. They are not painted on walls nor are backpacks made to look like owls.

I was with a group touring an orphanage in Uganda. We got the part of the new building where the babies are housed. There were several cribs lined up along the walls in a fairly big room with high ceilings. The walls had a nice paint job with a mural. The mural was a bunch of those cute owls with pointy ears. I speculate that it was painted by someone from somewhere other than Africa.

Basics of Spirits in Uganda

Many of the Ugandans hearing about an owl hooting in a tree assume the work of spirits. Westerners hearing the story assume it is just a bird with no spiritual significance. Africans assume the spirits are active. Westerners assume atoms, molecules, and instinct are doing their thing. Your worldview will determine your thoughts on this matter.

The outside of a small typical shrine.
Credit: not me

In Uganda like much of Africa, it is the spirits who guide and direct everything. They are behind many of the objects and events in everyday life. Hence the term animism, as the spirits animate things. African Traditional Religion (ATR) is how people relate to these spirits. The spirits are everywhere. Belief in them is ubiquitous. There is a spirit of the lake. Trees, animals, and earthquakes have different spirit influences and/or causes. The owl has a spirit that announces bad tidings.

I had a student tell me that many in his village leave some matooke behind in the field when harvesting. This is to appease the spirit that governs such things. Another student told me, in order to have a successful gathering, you must put food for the spirits out the back door with your right hand with your back to the door.

On a side note, this African animism informs my working theory about African/Ugandan art. Most if not all of the art I have seen in Uganda is not what would be called realism. It is not postmodern make of it what you will. You can tell it is a giraffe, elephant, or a person but there is something stretched or just out of place for it to be a more realistic image. This is neither good nor bad, but just the way art is done by most in Uganda.

African art is not quite realism

Most in Uganda believe in spirits. Spirits are ubiquitous. The question is not about whether there are spirits. The question is how to deal with them. A Ugandan Christian asked, in a cultural training class I was a part of when first arriving in Uganda, how to handle the spirits and new cars. He said that he knew it was wrong to take a new car to the witchdoctor so he could bless the car so it would be protected from attack by spirits on the road. This blessing usually involves sprinkling the car with blood from a chicken. His proposal was that the elders of the church should lay hands on the car and pray for protection from the spirits. Some people even have bumper stickers that read: “This car is covered by the blood of Jesus.”

Notice how he assumes the spirits are an issue. He assumes the spirits have control over cars and roads. There are many spots on various roads that many think there are spirits that can bring an accident.

But how can you get these spirits to help you instead of hurt you? Enter the witchdoctors. They have a special ability to communicate with the spirits. They can tell you what the spirit(s) want in order to be appeased. In return, they give you some request. They ply their trade at shrines. This is a large part of ATR.
When people go to the shrine, the witchdoctor asks for some sacrifice. They ask for money, chickens, or many other things . . . including humans (and while it may be uncommon, humans are still sacrificed today). The bigger the request from the spirits, the bigger the sacrifice. The witchdoctor knows the proper sacrifice because he alone can communicate with the spirits. Some come to the witchdoctor to ask the spirits to curse another person. This is done for jealousy, revenge, or a host of other reasons.

A shrine in Uganda.
Credit: matookerepublic.com

The spirits are seen as capricious. They do as they please and sometimes bless and sometimes curse. This is why you need the witchdoctor to help secure the blessing. All events are interpreted through this lens of the spirits acting. Did someone die unexpectedly? Then was it spirits? Hooting owls, earthquakes, and many other events have a spirit acting giving some message. The spirits have the power and authority to act as they please upon the earth. Many realize this and try to get the spirits to work on their behalf.

Because of the prevalence of the belief in spirits, it should not come as a surprise that many consult witchdoctors. Yet it does surprise me. Many attend church on Sunday and visit a shrine during the week. Articles discussing this can be found here, here, and here. Apparently, voting season is the time for politicians to pray to God and visit shrines in hopes of getting a favorable outcome.

Biblical Analysis of Spirits

What should we make of spirits? How does the Bible treat them? Is it ok to visit the shrine? It is important to understand the culture and evaluate it in light of Scripture.

If the spirits are as Ugandans/Africans believe, then they are made by God. They would have some authority to bring blessing and curse. They would need to be appeased to bring the desired result. It would mean that prosperous living is simply a matter of the spirits acting in your favor. We will deal with these claims below.

If we assume the Ugandan/African view of spirits then spirits are different from demons. Demons are evil forces of Satan (Matthew 12:24-29). They are only acting for evil against God and his people. Demons are always portrayed negatively and are dealt with by casting them out. Spirits, on the other hand, are capricious and, as far as I know, answer to no higher authority (though some believe in a distant creator god). They may be appeased to bring a blessing for the supplicant or a curse on someone else. They act for random reasons. I will argue that where spirits are acting, they are in fact demons. But more on that below.

I have taught the book of Genesis to theology students in Uganda several times. It is foundational for a worldview. It is the book of beginnings. In Genesis 1 we see many of the things God created. He created light, stars, land, sky, plants, animals, and humans. The spirits are not named as something God created and thus have no authority. I like to ask the students where are the spirits mentioned as being created. To be fair, angels are not mentioned as being created in Genesis 1. But they are mentioned elsewhere and mentioned as created beings. Spirits are nowhere mentioned in the Bible, at least in the form of African spirits.

As a matter of fact, it is humans that are given dominion on earth (Genesis 1:26-30). All things God created, save for the sun, moon, and stars, were put under the dominion of man. Therefore, it is not the spirits who have dominion/authority on earth. It is mankind.

The Bible must define our worldview

In Genesis 1, God gave His blessing to humanity. Mankind was to take the blessing of Eden and extend it to the whole world. After blessing mankind, God commanded them to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). We see here that the dominion and blessing of God given to mankind has a global application.

Also in Genesis, Abraham is given the blessing of God (Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 22:18). There God says that all will find blessing in him and his seed. Ultimately we know this seed is Jesus Christ and blessing comes through Him (Galatians 3:14-16). So blessing is found nowhere else save in and through Christ. It cannot be found in spirits or any other entity.

So the spirits, as offered in Ugandan/African animism, are not in the Bible. Though unclean spirits are mentioned, these are the same thing as demons as Matthew 8:16, Luke 4:33, and Luke 8:29 show. What is interesting to note is the similarities between spirits and the other idols/gods in the Bible. The idols/gods are capricious, there are many of them, and you need to bring a sacrifice to the priest who is the mediator between the god and the supplicant. The other gods were an alluring draw to Israel. One of the most often repeated sins of Israel in the Old Testament is chasing after these gods.

We know these other gods are no gods at all (1 Corinthians 8:4). Yet they held sway over many. Certainly, they held some sort of power. It is my contention that their power was from demons. A couple of verses show that sacrifices to these so-called gods were sacrifices to demons:

Deuteronomy 32:17 – “They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded.”

1 Corinthians 10:20 – “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.”

A statue of Baal.
Credit: Wikipedia

So as many flock to witchdoctors to entreat the spirits to act on their behalf, they are actually flocking to demons. They are flocking to sworn enemies of God. Spirits are not neutral nor benign. In fact, they are evil and we should fight against them.

So what shall we do about this? “But what if someone curses me?” This is a real question from a real student. We need to know some biblical truth in order to deal with this issue and bring comfort to our souls.

1. We have to know God is sovereign over everything, including spirits. They cannot act independently of God. God is not powerless to stop them. God governs any power they may have. Satan himself must ask God’s permission to sift Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31). So there is nothing spirits/demons can do that
is outside of God’s control.

2. We must know no believer can be possessed by spirits/demons. Also, the demons in the Bible come out with a word from Christ and even His apostles. There is spiritual warfare but God gives us the armor to deal with it (Ephesians 6:10-20).

3. We need to know God is working for the believer’s good (Romans 8:28). Can bad circumstances befall a believer? Most certainly, yes. Is that the work of a spirit? You just cannot know. But God is bringing good out of it.

4. You should pray for protection. You should, like Jesus did for Peter, pray that your faith not fail.

Many seek witchdoctors and the spirits in order to gain something. Mostly they seek financial or health-related gains. Christians pray for these very things from God, and they should. But the Bible makes clear that God’s ordinary working is through ‘normal’ events. That is why Paul instructs people to work so they can provide for their families and others (Ephesians 4:28). It is also why Paul tells Timothy to take wine for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). He recognizes that God uses ordinary means. If we think the only way we can get rich or well is through the spirits then we have missed plain biblical teaching.

What about the Ugandan Christian mentioned previously? He was wondering if he should take a new car to the elders for them to lay hands and pray for it in order to gain protection from spirits. Is that something that should be done? Since the spirits in the Ugandan sense are not real, then I would say no. But they should pray for it that the passengers be kept safe and that it would be used for God’s glory.

Conclusion

I say all this not because I don’t believe in spiritual realities we don’t see. I do, in fact, believe in them. Analyzing a big part of African society from a biblical worldview is my goal. Is there room for the spirits? Are they as ATR says they are? What is really going on?

Spirits, in the Ugandan sense, are not real entities from a biblical worldview. There are demons, however. These spiritual entities use the belief in the spirits to gain a powerful stronghold. We must seek God’s Word for guidance in dealing with demons/unclean spirits.

We need not be beholden to an ATR worldview. Instead, we need to seek a biblical worldview. We see the Bible does not discuss or acknowledge the spirits as presented in ATR. Instead, the Bible presents an ordered world with one God who is sovereign and has given mankind, not spirits, dominion and blessing. We must seek this God and live in light of His truth.

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A Review of The Search for God and Guinness by Steven Mansfield

The Search for God and Guinness is about God and beer. Some might find combining these two things offensive. But the way author Steven Mansfield brings these two topics together is refreshing, much like a cold beverage on a warm day.

Tracing the roots of the founding and ongoing life of the Guinness beer brand and company, the book looks at how Arthur Guinness’ faith enabled him to be a great brewer and a great humanitarian. At its core, this book is about joining faith and work together into a biblical bond.

The first chapter on the history of beer is fascinating in itself. While some historical guesswork goes on, this does not take away from some of the more certain aspects of the history of beer. It has been around for ages and the author postulates that beer is responsible for bringing about the first cities. Brew plays a big role in ancient civilizations, modern ones, and even biblical ones.

Mansfield’s introduction to his personal story of beer is helpful. He dispels the myth that drinking is bad and that one must drink to get drunk. Rather he shares how he didn’t like the taste of beer but looked in on the beer culture like a kid looks into a candy store. He saw his father share beers with friends, at weddings, funerals, and various other life functions. He says beer is the marker of life and denotes a sharing of friendship and joy with others.

The story of Arthur Guinness and his successors should be read by businesses, especially Christians in business. They were men who understood how to take care of employees and utilize a righteous use of wealth. One of Arthur’s descendants was given 5 million pounds as a wedding gift in the early 20th century. He promptly moved himself and his wife into the slums of Dublin, Ireland where they lived for 7 years. This was a shock to the nobility of Dublin and a welcome gesture by the poor. Mansfield is keen to point out this can be traced to the faith and life of Arthur.

The manner in which Arthur Guinness and those who followed him took care of their employees and sought to make a quality product is something to be emulated. They provided doctors, further education, wartime pay, above average pay, and many more benefits that only grew with time.

This book is a quick and enjoyable read and yet is sturdy enough to challenge all. Business people should read this book to glean the moral side of business and the righteous use of wealth. Beer lovers should read this book for the history of beer and the story of how one man made quite possibly the most famous beer in the world. Christians should read this book to understand how work is holy and how faith and work ought to be integrated. Basically, everyone should read this book – and I might recommend doing it with a pint of Guinness in hand.

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Life in the Pit

****Spoiler alert****

Joseph organizes a nation and saves the world from famine through a clever food program.

****Spoiler alert over*****

Joseph saves the world from famine and reunites with his brothers.

How many of you would want to join Joseph in that operation?  I know it sounds very worthwhile. If you only knew the ending you might just sign up for the assignment.

Save the world?  Sign me up.  I am totally in . . . the pit that is.

But if you knew how Joseph got to that place would you sign up to join him?  He was hated by his brothers, thrown into a pit, sold into slavery after they decided not to kill him, taken to a foreign land to serve as a slave, falsely accused of rape, thrown into prison, and betrayed and left there 2 years longer than necessary.

Count me out.  No wait, I am supposed to say, “Whatever your will, Lord.”  Honestly, it doesn’t sound fun.  Thankfully, I have not been called to this (“Lord, please don’t call me to this.”).  But there are a few things (or it could read – But there are at least 3 things…) we can learn from Joseph’s story that will help us whatever God has called us to do.

  1. God’s purposes are accomplished through difficulty

To say Joseph had it hard is an understatement.  Any one of the things that happened to him would be enough by itself.  Take them all together and whoa…that is a lot.

God had a purpose in all of it.  Genesis makes clear that God had a purpose for Joseph.  Genesis 45:4-8 says God sent Joseph into Egypt.  Genesis 50:20 says that God meant for all of this to happen to Joseph.  Why?  Because he wanted to save many people.  He means to bring blessing to the nations as He promised Abraham.

That God intends to save through turmoil is a picture of Genesis 3:15.  This verse states that one would come to rescue mankind from the work of the serpent at great cost to himself.   Now we can see the parallels to Christ.  He came and was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).  God had a plan to save many through the suffering of Christ.  The blessing of the nations promised to Abraham has come to fulfillment.  However, the salvation won by Christ does not come without the suffering.

God can use an unwanted foreign slave to bring about His purposes.

Wonderful.  Jesus suffered so I don’t have to.  Right?  Well yes and no.  Certainly the ultimate suffering we avoid because of Christ.  But today, before He returns, we still experience suffering.  Does God have a plan?  Most certainly.

Romans 8:28 tells us “that for those who love God all things work together for good.”  God is in the business of taking everything that happens to us, including our own suffering, and working it for good.  We must define this good because many, especially in Africa, twist what this good means.  They teach that God is out to make us healthy and wealthy this very day.

The good God has for us is defined by the next verse.  It is that we might be “conformed to the image of his Son.”  God wants to make us more like Christ every day and works all things to that end.  He wants to build our character (1 Peter 2:21), our hope (2 Thessalonians 2:16), our joy (Hebrews 12:2), our peace (John 14:27), and our love (John 13:34), among many other things.

We should pray that our suffering ends.  But that is not our only prayer.  We should pray for God to work his purposes in our lives through any suffering we endure.

Going through great difficulty to accomplish saving the world shows us that. . .

  1. God is sovereign in salvation

If you want to win a championship, you pick the best players.  Much money is spent analyzing NFL prospects for the draft so they can pick the best players.  The school playground is example enough to know the best players are picked first.

God doesn’t operate by normal playground rules.

You don’t pick the worst players to win championships.  That is why I am not in the NFL.  Who would pick an unwanted brother serving as a slave in a foreign land?  Not me.  But God picks such an unlikely person to bring about His salvation.

But why does God pick the unlikely Joseph?  It is to show He is sovereign in salvation.  God is in control and will bring it about.  It depends not on any person (Romans 9:16).  It does not depend on good works.  It is 100% from God.

God chose to use Joseph to show His power.  He wants to show that He alone can bring about salvation.  The salvation of many people through the food program of Joseph points us to how Christ brought salvation.  People thought Jesus wasn’t the man for the job (John 1:46).  People thought dying wasn’t the way forward (Mark 8:31-33).  But God brought salvation and demonstrated His power through the resurrection (Romans 1:4-5).

This brings us great hope because our salvation does not depend on us.  It depends on God.  We are to believe in Christ.  We are not to earn salvation in any way.  We simply trust in God who brought about salvation.

What God wants from us is. . .

  1. We should be faithful even in hard circumstances

The one thing Joseph did was to be faithful.  He had the opportunity to have an affair.  Potiphar’s wife pursued him to do just this.  Yet he refused.  He fled when she tried to force the issue.

The next part blows my mind.  Joseph is rewarded for his faithfulness by being thrown in prison.  Then he uses his God-given gift to interpret dreams.  His reward?  To be left in prison for two more years.

Yet the whole time he was faithful.  He was faithful to Potiphar’s dealings.  He brought great increase to Potiphar.  He was faithful to the prison guard as he was given responsibilities in the prison.

We know that God was faithful to Joseph.  He was keeping the covenant He made with Joseph’s great-grandfather, grandfather, and father.  God promised to be with Abraham (Genesis 21:22), Isaac (Genesis 26:3), and Jacob (Genesis 28:15).  Genesis 39:2 makes this plain by saying God was with Joseph.

Can God be with Joseph (or us) in hard circumstances?  Is God there?  He is and He is accomplishing His purposes. We tend to think God is absent in the hard circumstances.  But He is there keeping His promises.  Hard circumstances are not a sign that God is not with us.

Being in the pit, like Joseph, is not a sign that God doesn’t care for you.  It is a sign that God has something better for you.  As seen above, that something is Christ-likeness.

Christ has promised to be with us.  The Great Commission ends with a great promise.  That promise is that Jesus will be with us always, even to the end of the age.  Ah, what comfort to us and the apostles who first heard it.  They certainly would face many hard circumstances.  Their part was to remain faithful to Christ, which they did.

There are many times life seems hard, unfair, or difficult.  Our job is to believe God and remain faithful.  We may be tempted to think it doesn’t matter, that this situation is too hard.  But our faithfulness does matter.  Our faithfulness is better than much gold (Psalm 119:72).

There are no little circumstances, only little faithfulness.  We must realize, that we are responsible for responding to God with faithfulness, even in hard circumstances.  We know it is worth remaining faithful for we have a heavenly reward (Romans 8:18).

Conclusion

A pastor I know likes to say that you are either going into a hard circumstance, in one, or coming out of one.  Life is hard.  But God is good and has good things for us, our growth in Christ.  He often uses hard circumstances to bring them about.  He is sovereign and faithful through it all asking us to trust Him.  Let us respond with faithfulness even though it may seem hard.

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Kenyan Fall Festival

One of the things Brooke misses most is fall. With the changing of leaves to cooling weather to the fall clothes to football it all warms her heart. OK, maybe the football is more of my favorite things about fall. To be fair though she does enjoy a good football game which is awesome!

After class yesterday, Abraham took us to the weekly market. This is the market where people come from all over with their food and wares. It is much like a festival save for the funnel cakes and pony rides.

The Kenyan Fall Festival

The Kenyan Fall Festival

One person had a big bag of maize and I was running my hand through it. As I did I felt a cold chill and was reminded of football for some reason. With a chill in the air, produce being sold, and football on my mind it hit me that I was in something of a Kenyan fall festival. Except that it’s not fall, it’s not football season, I’m in Africa, and I am only about 70 km from the Equator. Other than that it was totally a fall festival.

Speaking of class, two paragraphs ago, it was my turn to do some teaching. These students are sharp. It is becoming clearer that I enjoy teaching and it is one of my passions. Whether or not I am any good is another question. But I do hope to get better and grown in teaching.

After class and the fall festival, we made a stop by the place where Abraham’s (our wonderful host) church worships God. It is a small mud sided building that shares pews/desks with a nearby school. The church started under a tree and moved a short distance to the current building. They have mostly built a nice and big brick church building but are waiting for iron sheets for a roof. You can see all three in two pictures below. In one picture Abraham has his foot on the stump of the original meeting place with the current in the background and in the other he has his foot on the stump with the future meeting place in the background. It is quite a look at the patience in church planning in Africa.

The church planting class gives a big thumbs up!

The church planting class gives a big thumbs up!

Speaking of Brooke, 5 paragraphs ago, we got to FaceTime right after lunch. That was quite the experience. I am in the bush of Kenya and she is in the big city in Uganda. It felt like she was in America in some ways. But I got to see her and Sarah and talk to them for a few minutes. Sarah was impressed with the cows in the background.

The week is progressing and Bruce and I are really enjoying our time in Kenya. Abraham our host is amazing and would be at home in the South with the penchant for southern hospitality. He even could teach a class on hospitality in the South. He is a big part of my enjoyment this week. Don’t worry Brooke, I am in good hands.

Look, Sam.  Lightening McQueen and thumbs up at the fall festival.

Look, Sam. Lightening McQueen and thumbs up at the fall festival.

That's an amazing amount of maize.

That’s an amazing amount of maize.

Our haul from the fall festival took two to carry.

Our haul from the fall festival took two to carry.

Some kids looking on as we look at the church building.

Some kids looking on as we look at the church building.

Bruce and I in the future worship space of Abraham's church.

Bruce and I in the future worship space of Abraham’s church.

More cranes

More cranes

Our class

Our class

It's just beautiful here!!!  God is good!

It’s just beautiful here!!! God is good!

Abraham with the future worship space

Abraham with the future worship space

Abraham with the current worship space

Abraham with the current worship space

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On the Road Again

I must say I was not looking forward to another long drive. But I was looking forward to getting home and seeing my family more. So Ben and I started for Kampala at 6:15am Kigali time. We got home at 7:15pm Kampala time. But you should know by now, I know I certainly do, that Kampala is 1 hour ahead of Kigali. So we spent 13 hours of clock time minus 1 hour of time zone difference on the road. For the mathematically challenged, that is 12 hours of driving.

Ben and I saw lots of grass and trees. It really is beautiful but also very sparsely populated. But this means you get to see 3 monkeys like we did. No, Ben and I were not 2 of the monkeys. We had a border crossing, stopped at a museum for a short break and enjoyed the wonderful vistas, and even stopped at the equator for a break. It was a long and grueling trip, but WE MADE IT HOME. Praise God! We enjoyed our trip and were blessed by what God is doing in Rwanda.

Of course there are pictures below. Be sure to check out the last picture.

I give a thumbs up to that view!

I give a thumbs up to that view!

I told you the vistas were wonderful.  God knows what He is doing.

I told you the vistas were wonderful. God knows what He is doing.

It's just a good picture of Ben

It’s just a good picture of Ben

We are hemispheres apart.

We are hemispheres apart.

The family gives a thumbs up to my return.

The family gives a thumbs up to my return.

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How Sweet the Sound

Amazing Grace

When I was in 7th grade I was asked my favorite song for a class project.  While some were saying “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice I was saying “Amazing Grace.” Now mind you I wasn’t very spiritually inclined. After hearing others’ answers I wanted mine to be “Ice Ice Baby.”

Now that I am more spiritually inclined, “Amazing Grace” is still my favorite hymn and song.  It is simply beautiful.  The music, lyrics, and memories all move me.  I want the song played at my funeral.  But please play the John Newton old school version.  I do not care for free chains or other choruses added into it.  I can handle them but I want the plain jane version.  It was the plain version that was played as my bride walked down the aisle on our wedding day.  Needless to say this song has some significance for me.

Why are we discussing my favorite song?  Today was my first Sunday in Uganda and we spent it at Zana Community Presbyterian Church in Kampala.  Believe it or not, the first song of the worship service today was “Amazing Grace.”  About a verse in and I look at Brooke and she has teared up.  I was moved by this.  It was God’s reminder of His amazing grace. 

Looking back on all that transpired in order for us to get to Uganda shows God’s grace at work.  Raising support – God’s grace; Having our second child – God’s grace; Getting ordained – God’s grace; Having needs met after quitting job – God’s grace; getting to Uganda with all our bags – God’s grace.  His grace has sustained us and enabled us to take this bold step for Him. 

I know God’s grace has gotten me thus far.  Now my flesh wants to take over and do the rest from here.  But this would be disastrous. Perhaps the song itself is a good reminder for me:

“T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…
and Grace will lead us home.”

I need God’s grace every second of every day.  It is free and available.  It flows like a sprinkler on a desert lawn.  I often reject it and try my own way.  It takes His grace to overcome my rejection.  I am thankful He gives His amazing grace to unamazing people like me.  And I am so glad He took spoke this gentle reminder to me today that the amazing grace that has gotten me here will be the same thing that will carry me on. 

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I Am Afraid but I Will Not Fear

I am a missionary and I am afraid.  In just a few days my family and I will leave all that we know and love.  We will leave for a foreign country.  We will be gone for two full years.

I am a missionary and I am not afraid.  I am not afraid for the reasons most others mention.  I am not afraid of a lack of modern amenities.  I am not afraid of wild animals.  I am not afraid of political unrest.  I am not afraid of local crime.  I am not afraid of disease.  I am not afraid of the food, water, or language barrier. I am not afraid this is not God’s call on my life. 

I am a missionary and I am afraid.  I am afraid that I will fail.  I am afraid my ministry will fail.  I am afraid I will not make an impact for Christ.  I am afraid that I will make a mockery of Christ.  I am afraid temptation may overcome me.  I am afraid a besetting sin will cause me to stumble.  I am afraid my family will struggle.  I am afraid the team will struggle.  I am afraid the locals might not accept me. 

I am a missionary and I know.  I know God says He will never leave me nor forsake me. I know that whether all others’ or my worst fears come to fruition that no tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword or height or depth or anything else in all creation can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.  I know God numerous times in His Word tells His people, “Do not fear.”  I know I must trust Him who sends me and nothing else.

I am a missionary and I am afraid but I will not fear. 

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Can We Just Pick and Choose?: A Response to Clay Travis

Travis PicWhen Chris Broussard, an NBA analyst, said on ESPN that he thought homosexuality was a sin you just knew a firestorm would erupt over his comments.  Broussard said he got his view from the Bible.  This only adds fuel to the fire.

So Clay Travis, a radio host out of Nashville and the proprietor of the website outkickthecoverage.com, took to his website to voice his opinion of the matter.  In the process he takes shots at the Bible, heaven, Pat Robertson, baptism, pastors, churches, Southern Baptists, and God.

In the article Travis asserts that when he was twelve he read the entire Bible.  He also says he grew up going to church.  All of this has left him with questions and concerns.  I can appreciate this.  Most people who criticize the Bible have not read it all the way through.  Also he raises honest questions about God and how these questions left him insecure with God.  While his article touches on various issues, my main aim in answering him is to deal with the interpretive issues he presents when he dismisses the Biblical prohibition of homosexuality outright.

This is especially important because his rationale for dismissing the claims of the Bible is a common one today.  I mainly hear this argument used when discussing homosexuality.  This is presumably because the biblical prohibition against homosexuality is so clear you can’t say that the Bible doesn’t prohibit it.  So another line of reasoning is needed.  The argument goes something like this:  “The Bible says homosexuality is wrong but it also says some crazy thing is wrong.  We do that crazy thing without bother so that must mean homosexuality is ok.”

A Case Study

The “some crazy thing” that is prohibited in the Bible is usually a verse found in the Old Testament.  Let’s use one I have heard often – the prohibition of shellfish.  This prohibition is found in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 14:10.

This law comes just after Israel was rescued from being slaves in Egypt.  God gives them laws to constitute them as a people and to show them how to live now that they are a redeemed people.  The laws were meant to teach Israel about God and who He was.  Two things must be remembered: 1. These laws were for the nation of Israel 2. These laws were for the working out all facets of life, the moral, civil, and religious functions.  Israel was not only a civil entity but also a religious entity.  In America today, we do not have religious laws.  We have only civil laws.  Therefore, many of Israel’s laws seem out of place.  But they were designed for Israel to live out their lives before God and before men in holiness.  God gave them these laws for their good.

So when Jesus instituted the Church He did not also institute a civil entity.  That portion of life was gone.  Also gone were the religious portions of the law, namely concerned with sacrifice and the temple.  All that was left was the moral aspect.  So when Jesus tells Peter to eat foods previously forbidden Peter reacts with surprise.  The message is clear.  This portion of the law has served its purpose to lead to Christ.  It has no more direct force.  The principles of holiness are still there.  But the direct prohibition of eating shellfish has been done away.

Christ did away with the dietary laws in Acts.  The church since then has known that most of the laws in the OT are not directly applicable to the church.  Rather they were for a specific time and place, namely the people of Israel before the time of Christ.  We may find some of these laws intriguing, confusing, or maybe even wrong for application today.  However, they are not racist, sexist, or wrong for Israel in their day as Travis claims.

So what do we do with these Old Testament laws?  We follow them as they are intended to be followed.  The moral commands are in force just as they were for Israel.  However, the other laws serve as case law and to be used to guide us or give principles.  They are not meant to be followed in a literalistic fashion today.

So what of the commands against homosexuality?  They fall in the moral category and are still in force today.  Besides that, the prohibition against homosexuality is repeated in the New Testament.  So it is still wrong to practice homosexuality.  God means this for our good.

Other Claims of Travis

In Travis’ case, the “some crazy thing” is slavery.  He says the Bible was used to say slavery was ok.  However, this is patently false.  1 Timothy 1:9-10 clearly prohibits enslaving other human beings.  While it is true that some used the Bible to make the claim that slavery was ok.  This is utterly regrettable.  In fact Travis mentions the Southern Baptists who repented of this practice.  This does not show that they now disregard this portion of the Bible.  Rather they repent of misinterpreting the Bible.

Travis says, “The Bible says tens of thousands of things that are. . . impossible to follow in today’s modern society” and “Let’s be clear, the Bible says all sorts of crazy things that every Christian has agreed not to follow.” We both come to this conclusion for different reasons.  He thinks we just know better now.  I don’t dismiss the Bible just because I don’t like what it says.  Rather I follow sound hermeneutical logic to come to my conclusion.  Here is another instance of someone using Travis’ unbiblical logic to unfruitful outcomes.  So Travis can say they are impossible to follow today but most of the things he is talking about are not to be followed today as I have described above.

Something that Travis says about his five year old self breaks my heart, “Why did he [God] also need me to constantly acknowledge his superiority over me?”  He sees God’s laws as arbitrary and that God has low self-esteem and needs others to worship Him.  This is tragic because it precludes Travis from seeing how awesome and wonderful God is.  He has the issue backwards.  He thinks God needs us.  In reality we need God.  It is for our benefit that He has spoken through His Word.  It is for our benefit that He has given us laws.  It is for our benefit that He offers Himself for worship.

Travis’ fascination with Ezekiel 23:20 shows that God is concerned with justice and holy living of His people.  Also, his description of the Southern Baptists officially apologizing for slavery shows that Bible is concerned with real people in real life.  They realized they had gotten it wrong and are now doing what they know they should do – repent. This is the beauty of the gospel message found in the Bible.  It offers real people, who do real sinful stuff, forgiveness.  It offers them hope and a new life.  It can do this because of the death and resurrection of Christ.  Those sins were heinous enough for Christ to die so that they could be forgiven.  So when we think ourselves guilty or shamed we should not seek to dismiss the action as being ok.  Rather we should repent and trust Christ for forgiveness.  God has meant this for our good.

Conclusion

This is how Travis ultimately sees the issue:  “Using a single Bible verse to justify an opinion that dehumanizes another individual is.”  This is unfortunate especially because this is how the culture at large thinks.  However, the issue is not that the Bible or Christianity or Broussard dehumanizes homosexuals.  This is evident from Broussard’s own friendship with a homosexual as he described it in the article.  No one says the Bible dehumanizes adulterers or murders when it prohibits these actions.  On the contrary the Bible humanizes every person by saying they were made in the image of God that we should love every person.  Saying you think an action is wrong does not dehumanize the person who might practice that action.  Wherever the church has dehumanized homosexuals or anyone else for that matter, and unfortunately it is guilty in some respects, it should repent.  But the fact remains that this dehumanization is not the result of saying that an action is sinful.  I hope he does not think I am dehumanizing him by disagreeing with him.

The church will not look back on this time and regret saying that homosexuality is wrong.  There will be much repentance over the treatment of homosexuals and how the matter was handled.  I myself have repented of how I have handled this issue.  More love is certainly needed in the matter.  However, more love does not mean less truth.  The Bible makes plain that homosexuality is wrong and the true church will stand by that for the rest of its history.  More people will spring up and use the logic Travis is using.  I pray they see that God loves them and offers His Word for their good.  Only when we repent of our rebellion against God and trust Christ will we find the real humanization we all long for.

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Am I Forgiven?

Am I Forgiven - HymnalsI arrived late. I opened the door to the chapel at Covenant Seminary and discovered the place was packed. The worship service was already underway. I took my place standing in the back with several others. Just as soon as I had found my place, the worship leader said it was time for silent confession. I dutifully bowed my head and tried to think of sins I needed to confess. No glaring or heinous sin came to mind so I confessed other sins I could remember. Guilt came over me like no other. It felt dirtier than if I had played with pigs in their slop. I was glad when the leader stopped the time of confession. What came next I had never seen in a worship service before. Quoting from Romans 8:1, he said, “Now hear the assurance of your pardon: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’” A wave of relief and freedom rolled over me. The dirtiness I had felt was washed away with the wonderful news of God’s proclamation over me.

This is what a worship service is supposed to do. It is to bring you into a real and fresh encounter with the living God. Ever since this service I have come to love liturgy and especially the assurance of pardon. However, I rarely find the assurance of pardon in a worship service that includes a time of confession. When it is absent, I quote to myself some passage that assures me of his pardon.

There is a general gospel flow that has been in the liturgy of churches from the early church until now. The worship begins with high praise of our holy God. Being in the presence of His holiness we find ourselves insufficient and sinful. Therefore, we confess our sins. But this is not the last word as God speaks in the service and assures us of our pardon we have in Christ. The service then moves into the wonderful redemption we have in Christ and concludes with our going out into the world in the power of Christ. These elements can be in form of songs, passages of scripture, the sermon, or pronouncements from the pastor and/or worship leader.

Not all worship services highlight these aspects. Not all do have or should have a confession of sin. However, when there is a confession of sin there should follow an assurance of pardon. I might add a personal preference that it be a clear assurance of pardon. Commonly the assurance comes in the form of a congregational song. Am I Forgiven - I am forgivenBut these often come with no introduction or hint that they are serving as the assurance of pardon.

So my plea to those who plan worship services it to include a clear assurance of pardon. It is a rich and wonderful thing God uses to speak to His people the certainty of their forgiveness in Christ. It never gets old hearing God tell me that my sins are washed away and that I am forgiven.

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Ref Rage

REF RAGE angry fansThe advent of the new baseball season brings to mind last season’s playoff game in Atlanta.  It was my first playoff baseball game ever and it would turn out to be Chipper Jones’ last game ever.  This game is marked more for the fans’ reaction than about the game itself.  The fans reacted to one of the most egregious umpiring mistakes that took place in the eighth inning.

With two runners on, Braves batter Andrelton Simmons hit a high blooper into left field.  The shortstop for the opposing Cardinals was running out to left field to try and make the play while the left fielder was running in to catch the ball.  It was then that the left field umpire called the infield fly rule.  This is the rule that states that on a fly ball in the infield with runners at least on first and second, the batter is out.  This is a good rule that protects the runners.  However, it was misapplied in this instance.  Instead of having runners on all bases with one out,REF RAGE trash pic there were runners on second and third with two outs and the Braves would go on to lose the game. Of course the manager came out to object.  The fans, not to be out done, made sure everyone knew their objection as this footage from my friend sitting next to me points out.  They spent several minutes hurling food, drinks, and even mustard bottles onto the field out of rage for such a bad call.  Never in my life have I seen such a reaction to any sporting event.

I might be a biased Braves fan but that really does not come into play for the reasons I bring all of this up now.  It struck me that this is an example of people wanting justice.  They want what has been made wrong to be put right.  Every Braves fan there that night felt the pain of being wronged.  They certainly made that clear.  While it is not too classy to hurl bottles and such onto the field, their indignation was very real.  This points us to something bigger.  Our Creator has made us in His image and part of that is a sense of justice.  This instance is minor compared to some other great injustices in the world today.  But this instance shows the outcry of people when they are wronged as well as the desire for things to be put right.

Because we all have this sense of justice, we long for wrong things to be made right.  There is good news.  This is what Jesus came to do.  When He hung on that cross, He took injustices of the world upon himself.  So when you or I do wrong to others, we can ask God to forgive us and He will.  However, the punishment for our wrongs is put onto Christ.  But Jesus did not stay on the cross.  He rose again from the dead which is a foretaste of all things being put new.  The wrongs will be put right again someday.  So let us participate with Christ in putting things right.  We should value justice and work for justice in God ordained ways.  But we must look to the One who brings ultimate justice if we are to have hope in the fight.

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